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What We Mean When We Say Metro

You may not have noticed the subtle, but critical change on’s homepage. The Avenue is now properly deemed a blog about “metro policy,” as opposed to “urban policy.” The difference matters at lot. 

And what is the difference? Simply that metro is a term that, like metropolitan areas themselves, encompasses urban, suburban and rural areas. In a metropolitan nation like the U.S., the urban/rural dichotomy, like the urban/suburban dichotomy, is rapid losing its relevance.

Urban and rural are often closely linked socially and economically. Cities are tremendously affected by what goes on where the density starts to dwindle.   Policies on transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and trade all matter tremendously to cities. And how well cities educate (mostly minority) children, acculturate immigrants, generate jobs, and create the spaces for fortuitous interactions that spur creativity and innovation matters a lot everywhere else

The concept of metropolitan areas explicitly recognizes the connections between cities and their surroundings – it’s built into the definition. A metro consists of one or more principal cities, the surrounding county, and other counties linked by substantial commuting flows. (The Census Bureau doesn’t even use the term “central cities” any more, because cities aren’t as central as they used to be.)

This map of commuting patterns in the Chicago region nicely illustrates the dynamism and connectedness of a metro area. If policymakers or urban enthusiasts are only thinking and talking about what’s urban (e.g. Chicago or even Cook County), they literally miss the bigger picture. 

The metro idea addresses the emerging challenge of suburban poverty, the new immigration flows to the suburbs, and broadband connections to rural areas. Metropolitan policy thinks about how neighboring communities can work together to solve shared problems like transportation, pollution, and economic development. 

Urban, suburban, and rural all have thick and contradictory cultural connotations. Metropolitan doesn’t, yet. That’s what we’re hoping to coalesce at The Avenue, and we’re glad our endeavor is more accurately described.